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Elizabeth Taylor, 1958 (Everett Collection)
Elizabeth Taylor, 1958 (Everett Collection)

The slip slides back in style Add to ...

Shopping is generally a nightmare for a fashion freshman like me. And with a family wedding a few weeks away, my molars were already in grind mode. Add the goal of finding an outfit both fabulous and wedding-appropriate and the likelihood of style success seemed nothing short of impossible.

Miraculously, the gods were smiling on me - on the first rack at the first store I visited, I found a gauzy cream-linen shift dress with origami detailing at the neckline. It fit, it flattered and it was totally wedding-ready. Purchased. Done. I just needed to find a slip to make it perfect. And that's when the trouble began.

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Department stores, mall boutiques, online lingerie sites all turned up nothing. A trip to La Senza got me a snicker. "No, we don't have any slips," the saleswoman said. "It's weird. People keep asking for them."

Slips - or something resembling them - have been around since ancient Rome. Worn by both men and women, the slip-like undergarment called a chemise was often the only piece of clothing to go into the wash right through to the Enlightenment. In the 20th century, when lingerie became an object of fashion as well as function, the term "slip" came into common use. In the 1950s, Elizabeth Taylor famously rocked a slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Later, Madonna took it to the streets in the 1980s, while Courtney Love made a tattered slip a staple of grunge fashion in the nineties.

And then they faded away, leaving women like me feeling frustrated and exposed - literally. These days, the dearth of contemporary options is driving many slip-fanciers online to seek out vintage options, the kinds of slips I remember my mother wearing when she was getting ready for a night out, wafting the scent of Chanel No. 5. That was the era, says Paulette Kelly, director of Ryerson University's fashion design program, when "a lady never left the house without a slip. My, how things have changed."

"It's all part of the evolution of fashion," adds Tiffany Ho, creative director for Third Floor Designs in Vancouver. Once a shield of modesty and comfort, the slip became obsolete when underwear became seamless (no more panty lines to conceal) and sheer items either started coming with a lining or were meant to be see-through. "Now the designer is thinking about the client and what she wants," says Ho, "so garments are becoming more innovative."

That's how Third Floor develops its chemises, which look and function like slips. Ho says that they can be worn as traditional slips, as sleepwear or as items that "some people will pair ... with a blazer [to]go out clubbing."

The slip is also making a return as a weapon in the battle of the bulge. "Slips for us are primarily a shapewear [tool]" says Ruth Ann Lockhart, Holt Renfrew's divisional vice-president of designer, branded and intimate collections. Shapewear, which typically contains Lycra, is not as luxurious as a silky slip. But lavishness - for underwear at least - has been out of style for some time.

"Back in the fifties, slips were what you wore around the house or in the bedroom," Lockhart says. "We don't wear them that way any more."

Yet the slip as both an enjoyable everyday staple and a garment of seduction may be gaining traction again. "By creating style icons like Betty Draper and Joan Holloway, [Mad Men wardrobe designer Jamie Bryant]is getting women interested in being lady-like again," says Carrie Russell, designer and owner of With Love Lingerie in Toronto.

Russell is just one of the handful of emerging designers who are including slips in their upcoming collections for the first time.

"I have heard your story from so many of my friends and customers," she says. "Previously I didn't design them because I didn't realize how many women are just now seeing that slips are essential to appearing truly polished."

Polished. A feeling I had longed for in the rhinestone-adorned teddy under my dress at that wedding. But I am holding on to the dress. And some hope.

"With the return of glamour, the slip is poised for a comeback," says Caroline Cox, British fashion historian and author of How to be Adored. "It's womanly and sexy rather than vulgar and obvious."

And that, I believe, is the best excuse for fashion to slip back into something a little more comfortable.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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